Homemade apple wine, and a celebration

It’s my last post, and the last day of the Fall semester — time to celebrate! So I made sparkling fruit wine a few weeks ago, and let it ferment for about three weeks.

Alcoholic beverages were some of the first things people fermented, so I thought it was high time I try out a recipe. There are tons of recipes out there for fermented alcoholic beverages, including sake, beer and wine.

I found this recipe on a website called Delishably. It’s really easy and makes a lot of wine for just about $4. I love this recipe because you don’t need any extra specialized equipment and there’s no cooking involved.

This recipe is perfect for holiday parties, especially because you can control the alcohol content and flavor through how long you let it ferment.

Recipe: Homemade Apple Wine

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The only ingredients you need to make apple wine.

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon of apple juice or apple cider — I used a $2 gallon of 100% apple juice from the grocery store, but freshly pressed juice would be best
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 packet of yeast — using wine yeast is best if you have it, but I used regular bread yeast (see below)
  • A balloon

This recipe is great because you ferment the juice right in the bottle it came in. First, pour out about 2 cups of juice to make room for the sugar and fermentation process.

Add between one tablespoon and one cup of sugar to the juice. I don’t like sugary drinks and think apple juice is already sweet enough, so I added just one tablespoon of sugar. Adding less sugar will make a drier wine, but some sugar is essential for the fermentation process and fuels the yeast. Shake the bottle a few times to dissolve the sugar.

Then add one packet of yeast to the juice and mix it again. The final step is to fit a balloon over the mouth of your bottle and poke a few holes in it with a needle. That lets the air from the fermentation escape, but keeps bugs out.

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The yeast doesn’t mix into the apple juice right away, but starts to bubble up and mix together over a few days.

I didn’t want to buy a whole pack of balloons to use just one, so I tied a plastic bag around the mouth of the bottle and poked a few holes in it.

The final product? This wine tasted good, but wasn’t as carbonated or strong as I hoped it would be. I don’t think I let my wine ferment long enough. My wine also had a slight aftertaste from using bread yeast instead of wine yeast.

 

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How to make yogurt

Finally — I made yogurt!

I’ve been curious about making yogurt ever since I moved into a dorm and had to start paying for my own Greek yogurt. Everyone says it’s easy, but I didn’t believe it.

I’m about to become one of them. Let me tell you, it’s easy. Easy enough to fit into a 58-second video, in fact. For all the steps in making your own yogurt, watch my video below.

I used this simple and easy recipe from NY Times Cooking.

Recipe: Creamy Homemade Yogurt 

Pickled pickles

This week, I made the most basic pickled recipe — pickles!

I love dill pickles but never thought to make them because the traditional canning process is so labor intensive. But as I researched other recipes for this blog, I saw there were lots of easy pickle recipes out there.

I immediately wanted to make them because while I like pickles, I don’t like cucumbers, and I’ve never really understood what changes the flavor so drastically.

Well, I found out. The answer is apple cider vinegar, dill and garlic.

Here’s an easy refrigerator pickle recipe.

Put 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar into a mason. Then add one clove of garlic, 2 tbls salt, a bay leaf and 5 or 6 sprigs of dill. You can also add red pepper flakes if you like your pickles spicy. Then add small cucumbers (like Persian or English cucumbers) to the jar. Put the whole thing in the fridge, and two days later you’ll have pickles.

Fermented Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to indulge, but adding fermented food to your holiday plans can save you time, money and stomach space. Stop competing with family members for space in the oven and refrigerator on Turkey Day. All of these recipes can be made over the weekend before Thanksgiving.

But who wants to eat fermented foods instead of mashed potatoes or gravy? Finding fermented alternatives to Thanksgiving staples is easier than you might think. Try these healthier alternatives this year:

Fermented Cranberry Relish:

This recipe from Well Preserved uses cranberries, salt and ginger for an alternative to a typical sweet cranberry sauce. This recipe would add a perfect pop of flavor to turkey and stuffing. It’s also a good way to use up extra cranberries after Thanksgiving.

Recipe: Fermented Cranberries and Ginger

cranberries

Brussels Sprout Sauerkraut:

Brussels sprouts are a Thanksgiving essential for me, and this recipe for sauerkraut made with Brussels sprouts is a great way to liven up traditional roasted sprouts. Like sauerkraut, it just takes vegetables, water, salt and patience.

Recipe: Brussels sprouts sauerkraut 

Brussels-sprout-Sauerkraut
Photo via Pinch and Swirl

Kefir Ice Cream:

If you have to have ice cream with your Thanksgiving pie, switch out the traditional dessert for kefir ice cream. It has all the probiotic benefits of kefir  sweetened with honey and thickened with an egg-based custard. This recipe is for vanilla — perfect for topping pumpkin or pecan pie!

If you don’t have time to ferment your own kefir, you can buy it at most grocery stores and use an ice cream maker.

Recipe: Kefir Ice Cream

 

Fermented ketchup

Another week, and still no yogurt. I realized that I don’t have the right equipment to make yogurt, so I made something better — fermented ketchup.

Fermented ketchup, or any fermented condiment at all, was completely new to me until I Googled “easy interest things to ferment.” This recipe met both requirements.

It’s from a book called Mastering Fermentation by Mary Karlin (which is now #1 on my to-read list). I’ve made homemade ketchup before, sort of. In attempt to preserve my dad’s copious tomato harvest one year, I made jars of a sweet, thick tomato jam. It was okay — I’ve always been more a mustard girl. Why is it that there are dozens of mustards from Dijon to grainy to horseradish available in grocery stores but one ketchup reigns supreme? (Here’s the answer)

I picked this recipe in an attempt to make ketchup more interesting. I imagined a thick, umami-heavy sauce without the sugar. The finished product was more sour than I predicted but will go great with baked sweet potato fries.

This recipe gets bonus points for being easy and making exactly enough to fill one mason jar.

The recipe

Mix three cups of tomato paste with 2 tablespoons salt, 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 6 tablespoons of honey and 1/4 of a starter whey (we’ll get to that in a minute).

Pour the mixture into a jar and cover it with cheese cloth or a paper towel. Use anything that will let the bacteria grow and breathe but block out flies or bugs.

Let the covered jar sit for 8 hours and then refrigerate for two days before consuming.

The recipe is is easy enough, but finding a starter whey can be tricky. The whey is essential because is the fermenting agent and holds the bacteria. You could use whey from yogurt, kefir or vegetable brine left over from making sauerkraut or vegetables.

I chose the first method and skimmed the whey off the top of my store-bought yogurt. I don’t think I had exactly 1/4 cup. I think using more would have strengthened the flavor.

Next time, I’ll use leftover vegetable brine and add some spices like paprika or pepper to the sauce.

Now I have three cups of ketchup and no idea how I’m going to use it all.

Pickled carrots and a history

I’ve already dropped the ball on my fermenting promise.

I didn’t have time to make yogurt this week, even though it’s such a simple recipe. All you need to make yogurt is milk, yogurt and a big pot, but there are a lot of time-consuming steps I underestimated.

So next week, I promise yogurt. This week, I’m recycling an old favorite — a jar of random pickled vegetables. (This break in regular programming does have an advantage in that it provides opportunity for a history lesson below.)

Pickled vegetables are the only thing I ferment regularly other than kombucha. It is the easiest thing in the world. Gather up all the vegetables in your fridge that you haven’t been eating, cram them into a mason jar and fill it to the top with a mixture of vinegar, water and salt. Any vegetable can be pickled like this, including cucumbers to make refrigerator pickles.

This particular jar includes baby carrots, onions, garlic and red pepper flakes. Since I made this last week, I didn’t take step-by-step photos, so here’s a great recipe that breaks down the instructions.

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How to Quick Pickle Any Vegetable

The history of fermentation

This post on quick fermenting vegetables leads nicely into talking about the history of fermentation because vegetables are one of the first things people fermented, along with dairy and beverages.

Humans have been fermenting dairy for thousands of years, which probably occurred unintentionally since milk is so unstable and refrigerators are a new invention. It has been said that the first yogurt was produced when farmers filled bags with goat milk in North Africa and the 110° heat naturally fermented it.

Ancient jugs suggest that alcoholic drinks were consumed as early as 10,000 BC. A chemical analysis from jars in a Chinese village found traces of a fermented alcoholic drink being produced as early as 7000 BC.

Evidence of fermented drinks has been found across cultures, but it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that people understood the chemistry behind fermentation. After Louis Pasteur studied yeast and began to understand fermentation, the process was still being used to store food longer.

Then in 1910, people began to realize that eating fermented foods was connected to health. A Russian scientist noticed that Bulgarians lived very long and believed Bulgaria’s high consumption of fermented milk products to be the force behind their longevity.

Sauerkraut

This week I made sauerkraut, and it wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. My only experience with sauerkraut has been on hot dogs or with pierogi. I would eat the sauerkraut I made with either dish, and I find myself a bit confused about what to do with it. Read on for how I made it and what I would do differently.

History

Sauerkraut is an Eastern and Central European dish that has been adopted by other cultures. The first time sauerkraut was documented was in ancient Roman times, when the writer Cato mentioned pickled cabbage and carrots.

In German, the word means “sour cabbage.”

How to make sauerkraut

Making sauerkraut is pretty simple. You only need two ingredients — cabbage and salt. I used a 2-pound Napa cabbage and kosher salt.

  1.  Wash your cabbage and discard bruised, discolored leaves.
  2. Cut the cabbage finely and put into a large bowl. Discard the core.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to the bowl with cabbage. Using your hands, crush the cabbage and mix in the salt. 
  1. Once the cabbage and salt have been mixed together, put the cabbage into a jar. A glass mason jar works best. You should pack as much cabbage in as possible, because any empty space may lead to bacteria in the sauerkraut.
  2. If you have empty space in your jar after you fill it with cabbage, fill the extra space with a salt solution. To make it, boil one cup of water and add a tablespoon of salt. Let it cool, and pour it over the cabbage.
  3. A few hours after making your cabbage, open the jar and press down on the cabbage to compress it.
  4. The amount of time you let the sauerkraut ferment is completely up to you — taste it often to make sure you like the flavor. Once the “sour” flavor is strong enough for you, put the cabbage in the refridgerator


I let my cabbage ferment for about two days before I put it in the fridge. I wasn’t blown away by my sauerkraut. Although I was impressed by the change from cabbage to sauerkraut in just two days, I didn’t cut my cabbage finely enough for it to be like true sauerkraut. My thicker version tasted like a salad dressed in heavy vinegar.

In the future, I’ll cut thinner strips of cabbage and use more salt.

Next week…

Next week, I want to tackle making yogurt. It seems pretty simple to tackle yogurt, but Greek yogurt is another story. It involves extra steps but since it’s what I eat most often, I’ll try it.